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He wants to inspire thought, not offend

Liberals are protesting the conservative 'Tucker Carlson: Unfiltered' even before its PBS debut.

June 18, 2004|Elizabeth Jensen | Times Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Va. — Tucker Carlson's new TV show doesn't debut until tonight, but it is already drawing complaints.

"Tucker Carlson: Unfiltered" arrives freighted with being the first in the Public Broadcasting Service's plans to air shows with more political diversity -- critics call that code for more conservatives. Despite not having seen the show, which premieres tonight in prime time in many cities and at 12:30 a.m. Saturday on KCET, PBS viewers are already complaining about what they expect will be the show's overtly conservative viewpoint.

Carlson, a 35-year-old bow-tie-sporting commentator for CNN, certainly will be provocative; the show's tag line is "Fearless television!" His commentary for a test show, taped last week at the suburban Washington, D.C., studios of WETA, took on the Democratic Party's sexual orientation-based quotas for its national convention delegates. Carlson referred to them as "a new affirmative action plan for gays, lesbians and cross-dressers."

He made fun of preservationists who fret that Wal-Mart is endangering Vermont quaintness. And he teased his interview with Indian evangelist Dr. K.A. Paul as a talk with the "spiritual advisor to the scum of the Earth." (That part likely won't ever air on TV, producers said.) "He's willfully non-P.C.," said Dalton Delan, WETA's executive vice president and chief programmer.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday June 19, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 45 words Type of Material: Correction
"Unfiltered" -- In Friday's Calendar section article about Tucker Carlson's new PBS show "Unfiltered," the political commentator was quoted as saying "transgender is a man who wears women's clothing." He had referred to "the meaning of a transgender as a man who wears women's clothes."

And he will make some noise with his first guest, Kenneth Starr, the former independent counsel who investigated Whitewater and is a central target of hard criticism by former President Clinton as he promotes his autobiography, out next week.

But those who are expecting a cookie-cutter conservative with predictable views -- as Carlson seems when he locks horns with liberal Paul Begala on CNN's daily political debate show "Crossfire" -- are in for a rude surprise. He has turned against the Iraq war. Many conservatives don't even like him, perhaps because he's not so keen on President Bush. "Do you think that George W. Bush believes anything at all?" he queried one guest on the test show, making the contrast to Ronald Reagan, who "I would have voted for ... had I been old enough."

"Unfiltered" clearly is striving for more of a cool late-night hang-out feel than the bare-bones look of most drab public affairs shows. In PBS' search for a new public affairs show, Carlson beat out a TV version of KCRW-FM's weekly debate program "Left, Right and Center" and another that would have been hosted by writer and former CNN chairman Walter Isaacson. Charges of liberal bias at PBS have been made for years. But PBS was moved to action after coming under particularly intense criticism from members of Congress and others over Bill Moyers' 2-year-old Friday-night "Now." That show often includes a liberal commentary from the veteran public television figure. Dispirited at having become the poster boy for allegations of liberal bias at PBS, Moyers has announced he will step down in late fall.

Moyers' show, which launched post-Sept. 11, 2001, wasn't conceived as a political mouthpiece but as a place for public debate of issues that arose in the aftermath of the attacks and the war on terror. With Carlson, public television is taking an even bigger step into the new media world of highly politicized public affairs programming, as seen mostly on cable news networks.

Unlike Moyers' show, Carlson's is getting precious production money from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which has inflamed many in the public television system. They are also unhappy that PBS gave the gig to someone who already has a daily forum on CNN. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting is also expected to kick in funding for another weekly public affairs show, this one hosted by Paul Gigot, editor of the Wall Street Journal's conservative editorial page, and his staff. That program is hoping for a fall launch.

Carlson, tanned from a trip to Venice, Italy, said that he was disappointed by a recent Moyers attack on him in the New Yorker. "I just can't imagine myself making sweeping generalizations about large groups of people," Carlson said.

For one, he said, he's not so easily pegged politically. Summing up his politics, Carlson said: "I'm far more conservative than Bush on a number of issues -- like abortion. I'm not a liberal, I'm not a moderate, at all. But nor am I partisan. I'm not interested in political parties. I'm interested in ideas.... I have no loyalties except to what I think is true, period."

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